Running Greece

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A bit threadbare, but we’re grateful for it.  At least it hasn’t been closed because of cuts.

The people in charge of Greece might be a bunch of lying thieving corrupt numpties who, in collusion with the neo libs of the troika, have stripped ordinary Greeks of their assets but they haven’t managed to take our spirit and dignity. It is intact.

As is the spirit of athletics. We have not got much in the way of resources, but plenty of people, young and old, Greek and immigrant take part in sports and athletics. I did something similar to the C25K six months ago and since then, as well as pounding the asphalt of Athens, I go to my local council stadium to train. It’s not in the best condition but it’s open to all from 8 am to 10 pm. There’s a 300 metre track, a small open air basketball court, an indoor basketball court and a swimming pool.

Running, as a sport, has taken off in Greece, just as it has everywhere else and the track is well used by locals of all descriptions. I go early in the morning and there’s always at least a few early birds and often lots. There are also plenty of great races in Greece. I’ve done the Athens half marathon and a couple of weekends back I did the Kalithea Run. Both were fabulous, well organized and a blast. There are all sorts of races all over Greece for anyone interested in mixing hols with training. And for all you serious runners there’s the Athens Classic Marathon in November (I’ve registered!) and the awesome Spartathlon, a 253 km (gulp) ultra marathon in late September.

Whether I’m racing or training, I wear a belt which fits  a couple of 300 ml water bottles. I put water in one and a home made isotonic drink in the other, as I hate commercial ones. This is great for hydration (make a good hangover cure too) and tastes lovely.

Home made Isotonic sports drink

150 ml coconut water

150 ml water

1 thumb sized piece of peeled fresh ginger

juice of a lemon

1 teaspoon of honey

a good pinch of sea salt

 

Put the water in a small pan along with the ginger, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the salt and honey and leave to cool. Fish out the ginger. Add the lemon juice and coconut water. Stir and chill.

It’s delicious!

 

Creamy Mushroom Pie with Bacon and Cheese

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As BewilderedMark says ‘Everything improves with bacon’. Hard to argue with that!

A lot of the food I make has to do with two things: my love of a bargain and a deep belief in the principle of ‘waste not, want not’, I hate to see food wasted. I find it very hard to walk past an ‘offer’ and am a complete sucker for anything in Lidl with a ‘30% Off’ sticker on it, which is why, on Friday, I went in for cat food and came out with some marscapone and brown cap mushrooms too. Then on Saturday, my eye was drawn to some filo pastry at half price and, as I knew I had some cheese in the fridge that could do with using up, I thought this weekend would be a good time to make some pie.

I probably wouldn’t use marscapone in a pie normally, I’d go for ricotta or Greek anthotyro. But it was on offer! So, why not? That’s the thing with recipes, most are easily adaptable to what you have readily available rather than taking the recipe as a diktat. I used filo pastry because I can get it anywhere. Shortcrust would work just as well or flaky pastry. I will give recipes for things as I make them. After that, the interpretation is up to each individual cook.

Creamy Mushroom Pie

500g of brown cap mushrooms finely sliced

1 onion, finely sliced

4 rashers of back bacon roughly chopped

a good handful of grated grana Padano

a good handful of mature cheddar grated

2 large eggs, beaten

150g of marscapone

150ml single cream

a packet of filo pastry

a little fresh chopped parsley

a little fresh chopped rosemary

a cup of EVO oil

a little salt and pepper.

a knob of butter or two.

 

Saute the onion in a knob of butter and a little EVO oil in a heavy skillet over a low heat til caramelised (about 15 – 20 mins). Set aside in a good sized bowl. Add the chopped bacon to the pan and cook through. Add to the bowl with the onions. Put another knob of butter and a little more EVO oil in the skillet and add the mushrooms. Saute until browned, cooked through and not watery. Once they are cooked add the herbs and a little seasoning. Saute for another minute or so, then add the mushrooms to the bowl with the onions and bacon. Add the hard cheeses, marscapone, cream and beaten egg to the bowl and mix well. Put in the fridge. Pre-heat the oven to medium hot while you prepare the pastry.

Grease an 8 inch pie dish well by brushing with EVO oil. Lay a single sheet of filo over the pie dish so that a lot of it is well outside the dish. Brush the bottom of the filo sheet in the dish generously with EVO oil. Add at least another 4 layers repeating the oil brushing process each time. Take the pie filling from the fridge and fill the pie. Smooth over the top of the filling with a spoon. Take the first layer of pastry from outside the pie dish and fold it over on top of the filling. Don’t worry if it’s a bit messy or not straight. It doesn’t matter. Brush generously with oil. Repeat the process til all the pastry has been layered over the filling and give the final top sheet a generous brush with oil. Bake on the middle shelf on medium hot for about 35 minutes and then put on the bottom of the oven for about ten minutes or so to ensure the bottom gets nicely browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Divide the pie into sections while still hot and serve just warm or cold with a crunchy green salad.

 

Xorta – Greek Greens

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Samphire ready to be steamed

One of the main reasons that Greeks, especially in Crete and Ikaria, are known for longevity, is because of the Greens – Xorta (Chorta). Along with consumption of copious amounts of good olive oil and lots of garlic, Greek Greens are the acknowledged health superfood of Greece. Northern Europeans have good Greens but only manage to use a few of them well. I love savoy cabbage (shredded steamed and doused in butter and nutmeg, please) but chard is ‘meh’ and kale is goat food.

In Greece, the best Greens are the wild mountain ones but there are plenty of cultivated Greens that are delicious too. We are just coming into the season for Vlita, which is cheap, readily available and utterly delicious. It shows the likes of chard up as insipid, boring and tasteless. But there are lots of varieties of Xorta, from the ubiquitous (in summer) Vlita, to the expensive, king of Greens, stamnagathia. Generally speaking, they are all normally prepared very simply. Washed, trimmed, boiled/steamed, dressed with good oil and lemon or vinegar. They are the perfect accompaniment to any kind of fish or sea food. In some places, such as Crete, there are some twists on the usual preparation, such as sautéing with other veg and some tomatoes to make a kind of delicious savoury vegetable stew. But don’t go thinking that the normal, simple method ever becomes boring (well, not to me!), because it’s the simplicity of the preparation that allows the xorta to show its real deep flavours, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.

Today, I have almyrikia for you. That’s Samphire in English. I think it probably costs a bomb in Britain but I got nearly a kilo for just under 2 euros. I had it today for lunch, along with some home made pease pudding which in Greece is called Fava. Greece and Lancashire have that in common, though I learnt to dress fava with oil, lemon, sliced onion and chunky chopped flat leaf parsley here in Greece.

If you can get Samphire, splash out. It’s delicious. Here’s a Greek way to do it.

Greek Samphire/Almyrikia

¾ kilo of Almyrikia/Samphire

2 smallish cloves of fresh garlic cut into thin slivers

EVO oil (preferably agourelaio) at least 1 cup

some (Greek) red wine vinegar

pinch or two of sea salt.

 

Rinse the samphire in a colander under a running tap. Pick off any brown bits and trim off any woody stalks. Place in a large pan with a couple of inches of water in the bottom. Do not add any salt to the pan. Samphire is naturally salty and salt leeches the colour from greens and makes them go grey. Put a lid on the pan. Bring the pan to the boil and then turn the heat down. Let the samphire steam in the pan for somewhere between 6 to 10 minutes. You want the greens to be just cooked through. Just. So that they aren’t mushy or sloppy but with a bit of bite to the flesh. Drain in a colander and leave for a couple of minutes. You can refresh them a little with a dousing of cold water if you like but don’t chill them completely. Place the samphire in a bowl and sprinkle with a little bit of sea salt. Not much, its naturally a bit salty. Then sprinkle on the fresh garlic slivers, the oil and finally give a good sprinkling with the vinegar. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. Serve with sea food. Try some Grilled Sea Bream. It more than likely came from Greece! We’re the biggest producers in Europe.

 

Spinach and Mushroom Pasta Sauce

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Quick and easy and silky, creamy but tasty

It’s been a busy past week as everyone is running about trying to get all jobs done before the run up to Easter. Next week is holy week for Orthodox Greece and any work related loose ends need tying up so we can all escape to enjoy the extra long break. Normally, everyone escapes on Good Friday, which is actually a work day but most people take it off and then return on the Tuesday. However, this year, the Syriza government has, kindly, ensured that we don’t miss out on the May Day (socialist) workers’ holiday just because it happened to fall on a religious holiday date. They’re quite happy to impose the Troikas neo lib policies that they were specifically elected to oppose, slash pensions again (not their own, mind – MPs pensions are untouched and have just been voted to remain so) and hike taxes for the umpteenth time but their munificence knows no bounds when it comes to giving everyone one poxy day off more. The hoteliers will be happy, though, as maybe a few more people will think it worth escaping to an island, especially given that we’ve had pretty scorching weather since the beginning of April and there are no signs of it waning any time soon. Life might be hard but the weather has been utterly glorious.

So, not having had much time to myself and trying to finish off a thousand jobs both at work and at home so I, too, can escape to an island (cozzie out in May? Let’s hope the water’s not too nippy!) I’ve only been doing quick food. This pasta sauce is easy and quick to make and one time where it’s perfectly acceptable to use frozen spinach. Frozen spinach isn’t a patch on fresh but in a creamy sauce with savoury mushrooms and lots of cheese you can get away with throwing in the frozen stuff to save time and effort.

Spinach and Mushroom Pasta Sauce

300g of portobello mushrooms, sliced

a handful of porcini mushrooms soaked for 1/2 hr in a little hot water

1/2 a small onion or a shallot finely chopped

clove of garlic minced

2 or 3 good handfuls of frozen leaf spinach

200 ml of cream

1 tbs of gorgonzola (optional)

a little butter and EVO oil

salt and pepper.

Heat a little oil and a knob of butter in a heavy skillet and gently saute the onion for a minute or so. Add the portobello mushrooms and fry gently until cooked through completely. They should be nice and brown and not watery. Add the garlic and cook til you can smell its aroma. Add the porcini mushrooms with their water and the spinach (straight from the freezer). Once the spinach has cooked through, add the cream and gorgonzola. Season to taste.

I generally mix this with cooked penne rigate, adding a small ladle of the pasta cooking water. Top with lots of good cheese, such as grana padano, or even mature cheddar, and bake til the top is golden. Goes well with garlic bread and dry crisp white wine. Try Assyrtiko wine from Santorini. It’s fantastic.

A Young Greek Entrepreneur

A fantastic little shop recently opened in my neighbourhood of Ano Patissia, on Mavilis street, just off Patission. And being a fan of retro clothing myself, I soon got talking to the owner Konstantina. She agreed to let me interview her about how young Greeks are managing in the crisis.

Πως άρχισες να ενδιαφέρεσαι για τη ραπτική;

How did you get interested in dress-making?

Ολα ξεκίνησαν, με την αγάπη μου, για το ρετρό.. Οι παλιές ταινίες, το Old Hollywood, η Jazz μουσική του 30′ και του 40′, τα B-Movies του 50′ τα γελαστά pin up girls και το ροκ εν ρολ.
Ηταν φυσικό και επόμενο να θέλω να υιοθετήσω αυτό το στύλ και την αισθητική στον καθημερινό τρόπο ζωής μου, και εφόσον δεν έβρισκα τα ρούχα που ήθελα, ξεκίνησα να τα φτιάχνω μόνη μου..

It all started with my love of retro.. Old films, old Hollywood, the jazz music of the 30s and 40s, 50s B movies, smiling pin-up girls and rock and roll.

It naturally followed that I wanted to adopt the style and the aesthetic in my everyday life and as I couldn’t find the clothes I wanted, I started to make them myself.

 

Που έμαθες να ράβεις ρούχα;

Where did you learn to make clothes?
Ξεκίνησα, να παρακολουθώ σεμινάρια ραπτικής και πατρόν και με πολύ εξάσκηση, έμαθα να κόβω και να ράβω πατρόν της εποχής εκείνης. Εχω μια εξαιρετική συνεργάτιδα, που με βοηθάει πάρα πολύ. Χωρίς εκείνη δε θα κατάφερνα τίποτα, πρέπει να ομολογήσω

I started following seminars on sewing and pattern making and with a lot of practice, I learned to cut and sew using vintage patterns. I also have a brilliant assistant who helps me a lot. Without her, I must confess, I’d never manage anything.

Πως θα περιέγραφες τα ρούχα που ράβεις;

How would you describe the clothes you make?

Θα έλεγα ότι είναι επηρεασμένα από την αισθητική του 50′ και 60′

I would say they are influenced by the aesthetics of the 50s and 60s

(editor’s note: This really doesn’t do them justice. Her clothes are gorgeous. Fantastic cut, really lovely materials and prints, and beautifully made. They’re lovely and I bought a little number as a birthday gift from me to me!)

Γιατί νομίζεις τα ρούχα retro έχουν γίνει τόσο δημοφιλή αυτή την εποχή;

Why do you think retro clothes are so popular at the moment?
Δε είμαι σίγουρη αν τα ρετρό ρούχα είναι δημοφιλή. Εγώ τα φτιάχνω γιατί μου αρέσουνε, γιατί είναι το στύλ μου, γιατί είναι διαφορετικά, έχουν ρομαντισμό και ποιότητα. Ισως αυτά τα στοιχεία να τα κάνουνε και δημοφιλή

I’m not sure they are popular. I make them because I like them, because it’s my style, because they’re different, they have something romantic about them and they’re good quality.

Πως θα περιέγραφες την ελληνική νοοτροπία ως προς τη μόδα;
How would you describe Greek attitudes to fashion?
Βλέπω όλο και πιο πολύ πως πολλές Ελληνίδες κάνουνε μια στροφή στην ποιότητα και στο χειροποίητο, αν δεν υπήρχε και η οικονομική κρίση, πιστεύω θα ήτανε περισσότερες. Γενικά θεωρώ πως οι Ελληνίδες είναι καλοντυμένες και πως αν δεν υπήρχανε οι γυναίκες να ψωνίζουνε, τα πράγματα θα ήτανε πολύ χειρότερα στην Ελλάδα, από οικονομικής άποψης.

I see that more and more Greeks are turning to good quality and handmade clothing and if it weren’t for the crisis I think even more people would be doing the same. Generally, I think Greek women are well-dressed and that if it weren’t for Greek women going shopping things in Greece would be much worse from an economic perspective.

Τι σε έκανε να αποφασίσεις να ανοίξεις ένα δικό σου μαγαζί;

What made you decide to open your own shop?

Πάντα ήθελα να ανοίξω το δικό μου ατελιέ, ήτανε το όνειρό μου, απλά ποτέ δεν ήτανε η κατάλληλη στιγμη. Η αλήθεια έιναι ότι έπρεπε να το είχα κάνει πριν πολλά χρόνια, αλλά ποτέ δεν είναι αργά να κυνηγήσεις τα όνειρά σου, ακόμα και σε αντίξοες συνθήκες όπως είναι η οικονομική κρίση που βιώνουμε.

I always wanted to open my own atelier, it was a dream of mine, but it never seemed to be the right moment. The truth is I should have done it years ago. But it’s never too late to chase your dreams, even under difficult circumstances such as the economic crisis we’re living through.

Πόσο εύκολο (ή δύσκολο) ήταν να ιδρύσεις την επιχείρισή σου;
How easy (or difficult) was it to set up your own business?

Η αλήθεια έιναι ότι εκτός από το απίστευτο τρέξιμο της γραφειοκρατίας,δε συνάντησα καμμιά ιδιαίτερη δυσκολία.   Είχα φοβερή βοήθεια από τους φίλους μου όμως. Πραγματικά τα κάναμε όλα μόνοι μας, το βάψιμο του μαγαζιού, το στήσιμο, τα ρούχα, όλα.

The truth is that apart from the unbelievable amount of running around because of bureaucracy, I didn’t meet with any particular difficulty. However, I had amazing help from my friends. We really did everything ourselves, decorating the premises, the interior design, the clothes, everything.

(editor’s note: Greek Bureaucracy has to be seen to be believed. A typical example of how it works here is you are given a list of a set of documents needed. You return with them the next day to find that one is missing. You return the next day, receive an all clear that everything is fine and you are sent to another department/floor to get them stamped whereupon the clerk in said department spots something else missing. You return the next day and repeat the whole process and on it goes… sometimes for weeks or months. Nope. No joke. No exaggeration)

Τι δυσκολίες αντιμετωπίζουν οι νέοι στην Ελλάδα που θέλουν να ανοίξουν μια δική τους επιχείρηση;

What difficulties are there for young people in Greece who want to start their own business?
Είναι δύσκολο πραγματικά με τους δυσβάσταχτους φόρους αλλά  κυρίως για την αστάθεια που επικρατεί στην οικονομία της χώρας. Πραγματικά δε ξέρεις αύριο τι θα σου ξημερώσει, τι μέτρα θα περάσουνε, αν θα μπορείς να ανταπεξέλθεις.. Είναι φοβερό, ρώσικη ρουλέτα,  απλά εμείς οι Έλληνες, είμαστε αισιόδοξος λαός, τι να πω..

It’s really difficult because of the unbearable tax levels but mainly because of the continuing economic instability of the country. We really don’t know how the day will dawn tomorrow, what new measures they will pass into law and if we will be able to cope with them. It’s terrible, Russian roulette, but to put it simply, we Greeks are an optimistic people. What can I say…

 

Θα μπορούσε το ελληνικό κράτος να κάνει περισσότερα ώστε να βοηθήσει νέους ανθρώπους να κάνουν μια επιχείρηση ; Και τι θα μπορούσε να είναι αυτό;

Could the Greek government do more to help young people start a business? What?
Πραγματικά δε ξέρω, γιατί ειλικρινά δε φτάνει να χρηματοδοτηθεί μια επιχείρηση, πρέπει να είναι  βιώσιμη κιόλας. Δε ξέρω, τα αυτονόητα φαντάζομαι, να ανακουφιστούν οι μικρές επιχειρήσεις, να φορολογηθούν οι μεγάλες

I really don’t know because, honestly, it’s not up to them to invest financially in a business. The business needs to be able to survive on its own.

Τι προσδοκίες έχεις για το μέλλον για την δική σου επιχείρηση;

What hopes do you have for your business in the future?
Θα ήθελα να μεγαλώσω το ατελιέ μου, και γιατί όχι να δω τα ρούχα μου να φιγουράρουνε στα ακριβά καταστήματα του Κολωνακίου.

I would like to enlarge my atelier and why not see my clothes displayed in expensive shops in Kolonaki?

(editor’s note: Kolonaki is the most expensive district of Central Athens. Equivalent to Mayfair in London)

Πώς σε έχει επηρεάσει η κρίση προσωπικά;

How has the crisis affected you personally?

Είμαι τυχερή γιατί είμαι 37 χρονών, είμαι στην αγορά εργασίας σχεδόν 20 χρόνια, και δεν έχω υπάρξει ποτέ άνεργη. Πάντα έβρισκα κάτι να κάνω επαγγελματικά, έχω μεγάλη εμπειρία, κοινωνικό κύκλο και δημόσιες σχέσεις
Η κρίση με έχει επηρεάσει στην καθημερινότητά μου και στις προτεραιότητές μου αρκετά, αλλά όχι σε τέτοιο βαθμό, όπως έχει επηρεάσει άλλους συνανθρώπους μου
I’m fortunate because I’m 37, I’ve been in the world of work for nearly 20 years and I’ve never been unemployed. I’ve always been able to find something to do professionally. I have a lot of work experience, a large social circle and network.

The crisis has affected my daily life, of course, and what my priorities are but it hasn’t affected me as much as some of my compatriots.

Τι νομίζεις ότι θα συμβεί σε μερικά χρόνια στην Ελλάδα;

What do you think will happen in Greece over the next few years?
Νομίζω δε θα αλλάξει δραματικά η κατάσταση, τουλάχιστον όχι προς το χειρότερο, αλλά ουτε προς το καλύτερο..
que sera sera, whatever will be, will be

I don’t think there will be any dramatic change to the situation. At least not to the worse but neither to the better.

que sera sera, whatever will be, will be

Sausage Casserole

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One of the last of the winter dishes for this year as summer has arrived very early here!

I’m very lucky where I live to have, within walking distance, an excellent baker, butcher and fishmonger. All on the same street too. It’s a tiny little side street with only those 3 shops on it. My butcher makes his own sausages, a rough country type sausage that’s not easy to find in Athens. You normally have to head for the hills, literally, to source good ones in places like Carpenisi, in mainland mountainous Greece. My butcher’s sausages are half beef and half pork with plenty of good fat that makes them great for slow roasting on a grill over a dying fire. Or I like to slowly fry til nicely browned and then douse with some freshly squeezed orange or mandarin juice for a nice mezedaki.

But today, it’s a sausage casserole. Easy to make. Easy to freeze. I would use any really good country type of sausage, such as Cumberland sausages, if you’re not here in Greece. I made this on a Sunday with some leftovers for Monday work lunch and another couple of portions to freeze.

As per all my recipes, you can fiddle about with the herbs and spices to suit your own style and tastes. More peppers of different colours also works just dandy here.

I serve this with rice and some grated good cheddar. To do the rice, I’ve just adopted my friend Janet’s foolproof method, which is: Saute a mug of basmati in a spoonful of butter in a smallish saucepan for a couple of minutes til beginning to go transluscent. Add enough water to cover well (1/2cm over) and a stock cube. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer until nearly all the water has gone. Slap on a tight fitting lid and turn off the heat. Leave for a good ten minutes. It works a dream.

 

Sausage casserole

½ kilo of good sausages cut into good sized chunks

1 tin of red kidney beans rinsed

1 onion chopped

A couple of peppers chopped

3 medium sized toms whizzed in a multi chopper

a couple of cloves of garlic chopped

a couple of chillies chopped

two good pinches of either cumin or smoked paprika (or both?!)

a handful of chopped fresh rosemary or/and thyme

EVO oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the oven to medium low. Meanwhile fry off the sausage chunks in a couple of good glugs of EVO oil til browned all over (I insist on EVOO as its going in the casserole and is a vital ingredient for bread mopping purposes!). Add the onions, garlic and chillies and saute for another couple of minutes. Throw the sausages and onions etc and all the oil and juices into a heavy casserole with a lid. Add all the other ingredients apart from the beans, stir and put in the oven with the lid and bake for about 2 hours. Add the rinsed beans and give another half hour or so. Serve with mash or rice and top with cheese and have a leafy green salad on the side.

 

Chuck-Anything-In Frittata

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Just make it up as you go along is the best kind of frittata

Last week was hellishly busy and I didn’t have time to do much of anything including cooking.

I like making a frittata, or baked omelette, when I’m short on time, as its quick and easy and you can make it with just about anything. It’s often what I’ll throw together when I’ve got lots of odds and sods that need using up, as I’m a great believer in the old Lancashire adage of ‘waste not, want not’ and I hate throwing food out. So last week there was this solitary courgette lurking in the bottom of the fridge; all lonely. I thought it might want to enter into a marriage with Mr Frozen Spinach. I know I’ve waxed lyrical about using fresh spinach and it is in another category entirely to its shabby frozen cousin, but needs must when the devil drives and I didn’t have time to do anything last week apart from whinge about my life of capitalist slavery.

Anyways, make your own recipe for frittata up or follow mine, if you like. It tasted pretty good.

6 or 7 baby potatoes cut into thick coins

4 rashers of English back bacon chopped (optional)

1 onion finely chopped

1 clove of fresh garlic minced

1 medium sized courgette, batoned

2 good handfuls or so of frozen spinach

2 good handfuls of grated mature cheddar cheese

3 large eggs, lightly seasoned and lightly beaten with a good splash of milk.*

a knob of butter and a splash of EVO oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

 

* Don’t overbeat eggs as it knocks all the air right back out of them

Heat the oil and butter in a good heavy bottomed skillet on a medium low heat. When the butter starts to froth throw in the potatoes and saute til they start to turn golden brown and are just about tender (at least 15 minutes). Add the bacon and cook for about 5 minutes or so. Add the onions and garlic. Cook for another few minutes til transluscent. Then add the courgette batons. Continue cooking til they are just starting to soften. Add the frozen spinach. When the spinach is cooked through, after a couple of minutes, season the veg to taste and turn out into a lightly greased 7 inch pie dish. Spread the vegetable mix out evenly and top with grated cheese. Add the beaten egg and place in a moderate pre-heated oven and bake until the top is browned and risen (about 25 minutes depending on the personal vagaries of your oven). Can be eaten warm or cold. I take mine to work as a nice cold lunch with a salad on the side.